JOSHUA 23-24: WHO WILL YOU SERVE?
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14-15 NRSV).
These are the most famous words of Joshua, and we honor Joshua by making cool wall hangings for our homes with this verse! Or do we? How would we really honor the memory of Joshua and Israel and to actually do what Israel agreed to do in this next verse?
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God" (Joshua 24:16-18 NRSV).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast. Joshua jumps back in, and there's some pretty important give and take here in the last chapter of Joshua.
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”
And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”
Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
The people replied again, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances (Joshua 24:19-28 NRSV).
Joshua was 110 years old when he died.
After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old. They buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.
The reading of Joshua calls for serious consideration of our lives. Who are we really serving. In Hebrew, there is not a word that's very equivalent to our word for "obey" but the word for listen occurs repeatedly. The word is Shema, listen, and often we hear this word coupled with Israel. Listen Israel, the LORD your God is One! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. Are you giving all your energy to listening to God or are you expending much energy listening to the voices that you want to make you rich, powerful, more popular, interesting, satisfied, or angry? Who we are listening to, where our radio dial is set, how much time we spend listening, watching, reading sources other than the LORD, is a pretty good indication of who we have "chosen this day to serve." What is your next step to listen and obey as Israel has done in this story to the words of Joshua?
LORD, help us to listen to you above all else. Who else has the words of life? As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.